Canucks’ Edler heads into season finale not focused on future

Vancouver Canucks defenceman Alexander Edler. (Darryl Dyck/CP)

ST. LOUIS – The Vancouver Canucks floated to the finish line last season on the emotional wave of the Sedins’ retirement.

The final week of another lost year for the National Hockey League team became a farewell tour for twins Daniel and Henrik, franchise icons who spent their entire 17-season careers in Vancouver and retired as the greatest scorers and two of the most admired figures in Canucks history.

Even the profound horror of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash, which preceded the Sedins’ last game in Edmonton against the Oilers, didn’t extinguish the poignancy of the Swedes’ final performance. Instead, it seemed to sharpen it – the sense of gratitude the Sedins expressed for their careers, and the privilege many fans felt for having witnessed the simple pleasure of the brothers magnificently playing together a game that they loved.

Canucks defenceman Alex Edler shared that emotional ride. He was the Sedins’ friend and longest-serving teammate, which made him Vancouver’s senior skatesman after they left.

The 32-year-old defenceman, who last week broke Mattias Ohlund’s all-time record among blue-liners with his 94th goal for the Canucks, began his career when Markus Naslund and Trevor Linden were the team leaders.

Edler was there for the rise to stardom of the Sedins and the most successful six-year run in franchise history. And he is still there today, a role model for Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser and the next wave of Canucks stars.

There is no farewell tour this week for Edler.

In potentially his final home game for the Canucks on Tuesday, Edler was named the team’s best defenceman this season in a vote by fans. He then logged 28:03 of ice time and had an assist in Vancouver’s 4-2 win against the San Jose Sharks.

He played career game No. 813 in the Canucks’ 3-2 loss to the Predators Thursday in Nashville, then travelled to St. Louis for Vancouver’s final game Saturday afternoon against the Blues. It could also be Edler’s last game for the Canucks.

There has been no outpouring of emotions this week because Edler, ever the stoic, is allergic to nostalgia. He all but breaks out in a rash when cornered by a reporter and forced to talk about his time with the Canucks and the uncertainty caused by his eligibility for unrestricted free agency on July 1.

Contract talks before the Feb. 25 trade deadline didn’t get far, and general manager Jim Benning and player agent Mark Stowe agreed to adjourn negotiations until after the season. There is a strong likelihood that Edler will re-sign. But this is professional sports; there are no guarantees and if Edler actually makes it to July 1, he will be pursued by other teams.

"With my future and things like that, that’s something I’ll think about after the season," Edler said before the Nashville game. "At the trade deadline, we talked a little before that. But we haven’t talked much after that. It’s different (without a contract); I’ve been fortunate to sign before the last year of my deals before. That hasn’t happened this time, but it doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen."

As we’ve said before, term and money are not expected to be major impediments to a contract extension. Edler badly wants to finish his career with the Canucks, who still badly need him. The sides should be able to agree on salary and contract length.

The potential deal-breaker would be an insistence by Edler on a no-movement clause, which could seriously hinder the Canucks if the Swede’s contract carries through the Seattle expansion draft two years from now.

The defenceman flexed his current no-trade clause at the deadline six weeks ago.

"At the end of the year, we’ll go over everything and hope to get something done," Benning said. "We agreed that we’d talk once the season was over. We hope to have Eddie back. He’s an important player to us. He’s a leader on the ice and for our young players."

Edler missed 26 games this season with significant knee and head injuries and his attendance record – an average of 18 games absent over the last six seasons – is impossible to overlook.

But so is Edler’s ability and status as Vancouver’s top defenceman. Not only does he continue to lead the Canucks in average ice time (24:31) and is coach Travis Green’s first choice in any situation, but Edler is having his most productive season since 2012, with 10 goals and 32 points in 55 games. The Canucks are 28-22-5 this season when Edler plays, 7-14-5 when he doesn’t.

No matter how many times commentators blithely suggest the Canucks can "move on" from Edler, there is no replacement for him in Vancouver’s system. And finding one in free agency – or trade — would cost far more than it what is required to keep Edler on a two- or three-year deal.

The defence needs to improve for the Canucks to do more than just compete for a playoff spot next season, and losing Edler after fast-tracking to the NHL outstanding prospect Quinn Hughes doesn’t make them better.

"You always want to make the playoffs and we’re disappointed that we’re out of it," Edler said. "But this year I think we’ve shown more understanding about what we need to do to be successful. We’ve done that more often. We obviously have a lot to work on, but I’ve seen a lot of guys take a step from last year to this year, and that’s very encouraging.

"Having been on a really good team, then going through a rebuilding phase, it’s interesting and exciting to see these young guys coming up with their talent and potential, and thinking about what we can become again."

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